8 Essential Tips for Moving Abroad (and How I’m Becoming a Madrileña)
The whole of January was ‘pre-move’ to Madrid. The whole of February was ‘post-move’ to Madrid. Now that we’re finally in March I can look back and safely say it took me two months to fully transfer myself, my life and all my things from one large city (London) to another (Madrid). If you thought moving abroad was an act of a single day and a single flight, you thought wrong.
I had arranged my job here in Madrid 6 months beforehand, so the task of actually finding a job in Madrid was taken care of and not too much of a weight on my mind. Phew. Where possible I’d advise you to secure your job before you move abroad as it’ll help you take plenty of the other key decisions involved in moving abroad, the most obvious being where to live. Let’s start there:
Moving Out: Moving temporarily out of your parents’ house is by far the easiest move you can do. However if you’re terminating a rent contract and moving out of a flat/house permanently (which was my case), you’ll have loose ends to tie up like utility bills to cancel, a local council to notify, a flat inspection with the landlord, change of address for absolutely every bank/online shop you’ve ever used, and potentially a car to sort out (and the car is a whole other level of headache!). Start by making a list well in advance and work out how/when you need to go through each of these steps.
The Move Itself: Now that’s in hand, you physically have to move your belongings/clothes/teddy bears/paraphernalia from Place A to Place B. In my case, London to Madrid is not a journey you want to do in a car if you value your sanity, so I booked a quick and easy flight. But how on earth was I supposed to survive for 6 months abroad with only 23kg of belongings? I decided that life is too short to struggle like that, so instead what I did was send a suitcase over to Madrid with a door-to-door delivery company, Parcel2Go. I filled my Antler Juno suitcase with clothes, shoes and other necessities and placed it into the cardboard box it came in (to protect it from getting dirty – it is white after all). I booked Parcel2Go’s courier service to come and collect it from my house and they did the rest. Off my suitcase went and a few days later, once I’d arrived in Madrid, my suitcase turned up safe and sound at my flat and voilà: mission accomplished. Along with my summer wardrobe, I also brought over in that suitcase some photos of friends and family, as well as my all-important postcards, of course, so I can personalise my flat and make it feel homely. Parcel2Go also send parcels so you can have smaller things delivered out to you while you’re living abroad, or even send parcels home to friends and family. I’ll no doubt be returning to England after 6 months with double the number of possessions and souvenirs of my time in Spain so I will be using Parcel2Go to send my things back to England as well.
Moving In: What to do if you haven’t yet found Place B? Finding a flat abroad can be a complicated business and it deserves a whole blog post of its own, read my post here about how to find a Home Sweet Home in another country. On this occasion, to my relief, my employer found and organised my accommodation for me so I was spared the agonising search for somewhere to live. My flat is slightly north of the centre of Madrid, near the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium (home to Real Madrid football team) and the best bit about it is that I have it all to myself! I adore living with friends but I have to say that being the King of my Castle (as it were) is great! It feels very grown-up and I am, for the first time ever, 100% control of the place I live in. Long gone are cleaning rotas, house rules, bathroom turns and shared bills/awkward money arrangements. I’m really enjoying living on my own, and am making the most of it here in Madrid as I wouldn’t be able to afford it back in London.
Getting to Know the City
Set yourself up with all the necessities: If you’re moving abroad for at least 3 or more months then you’ll be wanting to settle in and you’ll need to set up a few things. Here are some ideas: mobile phone number, monthly public transport card, bank account, gym membership, library membership (especially handy for books/films if you’re trying to learn the language).
Learn the local routine: Here in Spain things work a little differently from the UK. Working hours are much longer, for example in my office we work from 9am until 7pm or 8pm, with a more relaxed 1 hour+ lunch, which to be honest feels far better for my health than a 15-min sandwich on the run in London. Lunch is eaten roughly between 1:30-3:30pm and dinner is a much later affair no earlier than 9pm or 10pm. If you’re going out, then after dinner you’ll head out to bars in Malasaña/Chueca around 12am and then around 3am you’ll make your way to a club, which will see you partying until 7am, at which point you’ll collapse into bed and sleep the entire day! Hard to adjust at first but once you get into the local rhythm it’ll feel natural. Sadly they don’t actually do siesta here! Very disappointing.
Know the City Like the Back of Your Hand: Now that you have a mobile phone (with Google Maps installed) and a public transport card, you almost have all the ingredients to go exploring. Ask colleagues, friends and neighbours where for their insider recommendations of where you should visit and what there is to do in the city. Failing that, leaf through a guidebook or look online to get a few ideas about the main tourist spots and start there. Once you’ve visited the obvious ones, you’ll be better orientated and able to scratch beneath the surface to experience the more authentic and real culture. Talking to locals and following their suggestions is by far the best way to go and it may help you build a group of friends and meet new people.
To truly immerse yourself, go native: Only buy local foods and try new ones you’ve never seen before, only watch local television and listen to local radio, where possible only speak in the local language. On the odd occasion over the years when I’ve felt pangs of homesickness, it’s usually after being reminded about something that’s only available in the UK. Fill in the gaps in your diet and daily routine with the local equivalent and you won’t feel so homesick. Making an effort to speak the local language will help you feel like you belong in your new city. I’m not suggesting you cut yourself off entirely or go AWOL on your family and friends back home, but do embrace your new surroundings. You moved abroad for a reason, right?
Explore your new country, not just your new city!
Venture further afield: Once I’ve settled in properly and explored Madrid, I plan to do what I do best – go travelling! I’ve been to Spain more times than I can count over the years but I’m still missing some key places. A uni friend and I are heading down to Valencia in April, I am desperate to visit San Sebastian in the Basque Country, I want to return to Córdoba in the south, where I spent 6 months as an Erasmus student, and nearer to Madrid, Segovia is also on the list. I am considering spending my birthday weekend in July on a Spanish island, but have no idea whether to go to the Canaries or the Balearic Isles…
All in all I’m settling into Madrid quite well, and although I’ll never pass for a local (the blonde hair, blue eyes and foreign accent give away the game), I’m giving it my best shot at immersing myself in the local culture! Madrid feels relatively ‘Spanish’, in a way that most European capital cities don’t. London for example feels overwhelmingly foreign and not at all a part of England, and I think Barcelona and the eastern coast have done the capital a favour by attracting all the foreigners there instead, leaving Madrid relatively tourist-free and authentic. I really like it here and am thrilled to be able to call it home for the next 5 months!